A fanfare at Tauranga Park


Sackbuts and hunting horns have come a long way in the last 400 years with the engineering of conical tubes, valves and telescoping slides giving rise to the modern French horn, trumpet and trombone.

In New Zealand the Brass Band movement was for a time an appealing entrée for the young into ensemble playing, and while many of those are now absorbed into the brass sections of full orchestras, they mostly sit at the back and don’t get a shot at being stage centre. But on a recent Sunday three players from the Auckland Philharmonia gave their first concert as the Auckland Chamber Ensemble Brass to an appreciative audience at Tauranga Park Auditorium.

The program was varied including works by familiar names like Francis Poulenc and Luciano Berio. The Poulenc was playful, fun to hear, yet demanding with its large interval slurs skilfully played by New Zealander Emma Richards on French horn.
The two other players were Melbourne trained, one tackling a Berio Sequenza for solo trombone, from the dozens of similar pieces for solo instruments by that composer. This one was inspired by Berio’s close friend Grock, the last of the great clowns in Europe.

Other composers were names known mostly to brass players. Their works were largely tonal, and, except for a final seventh or ninth chord, did not explore the strident clash of sounds that brass instruments can deliver so well.
Missing too was the larger historic reach that might have encompassed works of Andrea or Giovanni Gabrieli, famous for early use of brass in the Duomo of St Marks in Venice. But those were antiphonal works capitalizing on opposing high balconies and a very resonant building.

Instead, this explored the intimacy of three solo brass in a chamber music setting. While that literature doesn’t yet have the profound depth of say string trios, this new ensemble of skilled players deserves much credit for bringing to Tauranga a fresh sample of what is out there.

The final concert in the Musica series will be the Donizetti Trio on Sept 17.

Gallery Art with Strings Attached

Who said an Art Gallery couldn’t stage a first-class musical event? Tauranga learnt otherwise when its gallery hosted a concert by the NZ Trio on Thursday August 7.

With Radio NZ recently asking What instruments constitute a Piano Trio? we realized NZ Trio is in fact a Piano Trio (piano, violin and cello). And there at stage centre sat the Gallery’s much hyped Red Piano.

Not content with using brilliant colour to bring black and white music notes to life, at stage right were stairs leading to sculptor Terry Stringer’s Landscape of the Head, a series of bold forms that merge Easter Island and Henry Moore. Tonight’s context was clearly boldness and colour, and this audience was ready for both.

Beethoven had set the stage with his Opus 1 publication of three Piano Trios. In choosing one of these our performers demonstrated both their skill and the boldness of that brilliant young performer who had burst upon the scene in 1790s Vienna.

This was our first hearing of the carved Red Piano, when we learned this modern 9-foot Steinway hadn’t suffered from its recent Cut and Colour, and was still more piano than Beethoven ever played. This led to balance issues in the 2nd and 3rd movements, especially when violin pizzicato motifs were being exchanged with the piano.

Composer Michael Norris’ fascinating Dirty Pixels fit right into this occasion. Its aggressive beginning gave way to some beautiful lines, and eventually a quiet elegant ending. Yu-Hui Chang’s Flicker elicited nice instrumental effects from the Trio and had a similar ending.

Arvo Paert was again pensive in combining slow string dyads with fragments of Mozart piano. And Karlo Margetic’s Lightbox claimed the technical high ground with imaginary projections into sound space.

But the ace of the evening was a new work Tango by NZ composer Clare Cowen. This captured the stylistic elements of the dance with a creative flair that clearly grabbed these performers and audience alike.

This concert was a credit to the Art Gallery in crossing boundaries that usually separate the creative arts, and it should be rewarded to enable more such events.

Prof Barry Vercoe Mus D.


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